Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Answer to country's woes lies in 'time-tested values'

Rais Hidayat, Research and Development Unit, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

During the latter years of former president Soeharto's rule, it became apparent that a number of senior figures in the military were unhappy at his leaning toward politically aspiring Muslim groups. While this may have been a brilliant move to win over the disgruntled groups, it was unsettling to the seniors, who were nervous of "greens" (Muslim-leaning officers) in the supposedly neutral military.

The tall, lanky figure of former military commander Edi Sudrajat was such a senior. He was considered a clean figure bent on military professionalism, in terms of trying to keep the armed forces "above all groups," according to its creed. Such seniors were dubbed the "red and white" officers (after the colors of the flag) for their proclaimed "nationalist" stance, dedicated to "guarding Pancasila" -- a reference to the state ideology, which has been interpreted as guarding the nation against trends toward sectarianism.

The traumatic experience of the past for such "nationalists" included the armed struggle for an Islamic state in the 1950s. Soeharto's relations with the upcoming Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) were seen as too close for comfort.

The intentions of such officers might not have been all uniform and noble, given the then tough competition for power. But their "red and white" exterior was aimed at appealing to others worried about signs of a president favoring Muslim political groups, which were seeking greater recognition after years of suppression.

In December 1998, Edi, a retired general, set up the Justice and Unity Party (PKP), which showed that not all in the military were adhering to a principle long taken for granted -- that the military, including retired officers and their entire families, supported Golkar.

Other Golkar activists joined PKP. But to significantly reduce Golkar's influence was wishful thinking -- the 1999 polls ended in PKP securing only 1,065,686 votes, with four legislative seats representing North Sumatra, West Java, Central Java and East Java. This achievement put PKP in eighth position, leaving it ineligible to contest the 2004 election.

On Sept. 9, 2002, a new party, the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party or PKP Indonesia, was established and it managed to pass the selection process of the General Elections Commission (KPU).

It is still questionable whether it would enjoy strong support even from the Veterans Association (PEPABRI), whose members now seem to have diverse political affiliations.

The party's young face is represented by secretary-general Semuel Samson, who is also the secretary-general of a youth organization formerly affiliated to Golkar (Generasi Muda Kosgoro).

But it is also Semuel who indicates that the party's outlook resembles that of the past. In an interview with The Jakarta Post he explained that the current amendment to the Constitution amid all the reformist fervor had weakened the very foundations of the republic.

Yet he did recognize a desire for change -- as long as it was based on a referendum. He refers to the United States, which utilizes amendments to its constitution while retaining the original document, to keep it up to date with the times.

The other parties considered to be "New Order remnants", like Golkar, try to pay better lip service to "reformist" aspirations such as constitutional reform.

PKP Indonesia's stance on this issue thus seems to reflect many people's fears, particularly among those who refer to "the good old days", that all these wild, "reformist" measures might be destructive to the nation.

The party's long agenda includes respect for human rights, clean governance and upholding the unitary republic, like that of many others'. And it stresses that it is justice that preserves unity -- although it is not yet clear if its leader, the retired commander, would have taken a different position on military operations in Aceh if he had had the chance.

The party's outlook, as described by Samson, also includes its desire to return to Pancasila as the sole principle in political life -- while one celebration of the formal end of the New Order has been the freedom of political parties to state their ideology other than Pancasila.

Several Muslim-oriented parties now name Islam as their principal, as Pancasila, as the only permitted principal of political parties (azas tunggal), had meant nonrecognition or even suppression of Muslim political aspirations under Soeharto's rule.

The above examples thus indicate that PKP Indonesia is attracting to its flock all those who believe in the basic tenets of the New Order, which they attribute to its stability -- minus its perpetration of injustice and violations of human rights.

In Semuel's words, the party exists because the "nationalism" of Golkar has faded; Pancasila propagation courses should be revived "because Pancasila is our shared foundation as a nation," and without it, people would opt for other creeds for the nation, "which would not suit a pluralist country." More vocal Muslim groups have led others, including Muslims, to become quite jumpy.

The party founders believe their call appeals to a considerable number of people, as Semuel says the party has viable branches in 32 provinces, 416 regencies and cities, and 4,000 districts -- with a total 3.2 million members.

Gen. (ret) Edi may have a low profile nowadays. But as many seem to share the founders' restlessness, Semuel is optimistic that 3 percent of the vote and 17 seats in the legislature will be the party's minimum achievement, making it eligible for the next election and for joining the race for the presidency.

Outline of PKP Indonesia's platform:

The party's aims to build a nation that is just and united based on the supremacy of the law.

Its mission includes defending the unitary state of the Republic based on Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution; struggling for a clean government which respects human rights, and a dignified nation in the international community with the ability to withstand global competition.

The party's priorities include:

o Developing party members based on merit;

o Providing fertilizer subsidy for farmers;

o Enhancing the development of independent institutions (through

the implementation of the Consumer Protection Law);

o Encouraging improvement in defense and security through

restructuring the Indonesian Military and National Police.